new orchard, old homes, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from mulch.thief’s photostream

Building One Pennsylvania is a statewide, grassroots coalition which emerged from a 2010 summit of more than 600 leaders concerned about how to deal with the problems of older cities, towns and boroughs in the state. These communities face the same problems: a diminished tax base, an increase in property taxes, a decline in school and municipal services, and a deteriorating infrastructure. The Building One Pennsylvania coalition is comprised of community leaders from many sectors including: municipal, school, faith, business, labor and civic. The group’s main goals are to “stabilize and revitalize their communities, reinvigorate local economies, and promote regional opportunity and sustainability.” Building One Pennsylvania works with its national partner, Building ONE America.

Building One Pennsylvania’s statewide steering committee has been holding regional events around the state. On October 27th, they held a conference of 800 people in Lancaster, PA which featured Shaun Donovan, United States Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, as the main speaker. Donovan spoke of what he called, “the tyranny of the ZIP code.” From LancasterOnline:

There’s a big divide in America that could be called “the tyranny of the ZIP code,” a member of President Obama’s cabinet said in Lancaster on Thursday.

If you live in the right ZIP code, with more access to opportunity, your chances of succeeding are much better.

And “while we have made real progress, despite the economic headwinds we’re still facing,” more needs to be done to level the playing field when it comes to housing and other opportunities, Shaun Donovan said.

Donovan and local officials at the conference identified a need for communities to take a regional approach to their common problems. Donovan added, “Solutions must be tailored to the area, not a one-size-fits-all.” There was also recognition that state and federal policymakers will have to play a real part in turning around Pennsylvania’s older communities. Leo Lutz,Columbia Mayor, said, “Like many of our communities, our problems are not caused by local decisions, and they will not be solved by local decisions.”

You can view a video of Donovan’s remarks to the conference here.